With profound sorrow, we announce the death of Graeme Ferguson, artist, filmmaker, writer, co-founder of IMAX Corporation and co-inventor of the IMAX Experience. He died at the age of 91, on May 8, 2021 at Norway Point, his home at Lake of Bays, just eight weeks after the death of his beloved wife, Phyllis. The cause of his death was cancer, which he had been dealing with for many months with courage. His final days of palliative care at home were overseen by his daughter Allison. His son Munro and his grandchildren played an important part in Graeme’s last weeks, which ended surrounded by love, peacefully, after an extraordinary life.
Born in Toronto, Graeme was the oldest of the four children of Frank and Grace Ferguson who were originally from Saskatchewan. Graeme grew up in Galt, Ontario, where his father, known for his joyful gift for teaching, was head of the English department at Galt Collegiate Institute. Graeme inherited a life-long love of reading from his parents, who also encouraged his innate curiosity, and early interests in photography, filmmaking and invention. Two of Graeme’s best friends at GCI, Robert Kerr and William Shaw, would play instrumental roles in Graeme’s life, as did Roman Kroitor, whom he met in the summer of 1950 while an intern at the National Film Board. During his career, Graeme’s talent as a cinematographer and director, his enthusiasm for exploration and adventure, and his deep interest in the cultures and politics of the world led him to Ghana, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo and then to India, where he lived for two years. In his early years in New York, he was involved with experimental films and the new form of documentary filmmaking, cinéma vérité, which had a lasting impact on his own filmmaking style. Committed to documentaries, Graeme filmed both in the Arctic and Antarctica, sent IMAX cameras underwater and, most significantly, arranged for the IMAX cameras to be carried into space. At Expo 67, he and Roman Kroitor, by then his brother-in-law, had two of the most popular pavilions at the fair. Audiences waited in line for hours to see Graeme’s Polar Life and Roman’s Labyrinth. Both pavilions required multiple projectors which had to be mechanically synchronised. Graeme and Roman envisioned a movie theater with a similar immersive experience but with one giant screen and one projector. To pursue this dream, they formed a company with Robert Kerr, soon joined by engineer William Shaw and later businessman William Breukelman. The first IMAX camera and IMAX projector were built in time to premiere Roman’s Tiger Child at Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan. North of Superior, the first film to be shot entirely in IMAX, filmed and directed by Graeme for Ontario Place in 1971, remains particularly beloved by Ontarians who saw it there over the years that followed. The signature film also marked the beginning of his lifelong collaboration with the young Indigenous filmmaker Phyllis Wilson, who was to become his wife and creative partner. Graeme went on to direct and produce many more IMAX films including The Dream Is Alive, the first IMAX film to be shot in space. Seen by over 40 million people in IMAX theatres, it was, for a time, the most widely seen documentary in cinema history. The remarkable collaboration between Graeme and filmmaker Toni Myers resulted in over a dozen IMAX films, including Blue Planet, Destiny in Space, Mission to Mir, Into the Deep, Deep Sea 3D, Under the Sea 3D, Hubble 3D and A Beautiful Planet. Together with Toni and Phyllis, Graeme led the IMAX space team in their unique private/public partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, Lockheed Corporation and NASA. Astronauts trusted the team to tell their story, and many became close friends. One of his favourite awards was NASA’s Silver Snoopy Award for dedication and contributions to the Space Shuttle Program. When Graeme and Phyllis retired at Lake of Bays, they became valued members of the community and contributors to important local causes. Graeme continued his passion for monitoring social justice issues, reading and photography. He filled several photo albums with pictures of sunsets. Graeme became a collector of antique boats. Researching the history of one of these boats, Heather-Belle, led to him writing The Naphtha Revolution, a book about the invention in the 1880s of naphtha-powered boats, the first owner-operated motor vehicles, which will be published soon. Graeme was known for his inquiring mind, generosity of spirit and gracious inclusion of all those he worked with. Humble about his numerous cinematic awards and legacy, Graeme believed that his greatest success was his family and the nearly 50-year relationship he forged with Phyllis.
Shortly before the end of his life, he said that he hoped he had achieved his goal of imparting the gift of curiosity and an awareness of worldwide issues to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchild, of whom he was so proud. Forever remembered by his children Munro Ferguson and Allison Ferguson and their families: grandchildren Ivan Ferguson, Joyce Ferguson (Pedro Cerna), Samuel Ferguson-Sharp (Melanie) and Lucas Ferguson-Sharp (Sorcha); their mother Eo Sharp (Charles); great-grandson Leo Cerna-Ferguson; and his sisters Janet Kroitor (the late Roman), Mary Hooper (Bob) and brother Bill Ferguson (Millie) and their families. Lovingly remembered by the Tenniscoe family, especially Ruth Martinsen (the late Bent), Sandra Pehkonen (Allan Davis), Margaret Tenniscoe (Gary Ross) and their families, and Lindsay Morgan and her family.
Funeral services for the Late Phyllis and Ivan Ferguson will be held on Wednesday, August 25, 2021 at 11:00am in EVEREST FUNERAL CHAPEL, 299 Waverley Street at Algoma. A recording of the service will be available on everestofthunderbay.com beginning on Thursday.
COVID-19 Protective measures are still being applied in group settings. Masks or face coverings are mandatory and maintaining social distancing of 6 feet is mandatory for those attending the service.
In lieu of flowers, donations to Beendigen Thunder Bay or the Thunder Bay and District Humane Society would be appreciated.
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Our most sincere sympathies to the family and friends of Ivan Graeme Ferguson Saturday May 8th 2021..
Death notice for the town of: Thunder Bay, Province: Ontario